The monkeys have overrun the multiplex. Caesar the Chimp came, saw, and conquered the box office, as 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' outperformed expectations to debut with an estimated $54 million.
The primate prequel had been expected to premiere at No. 1, but with projected sales in the low 40s. Clearly, pundits underestimated the fan love for the 43-year-old franchise. Reviews have been surprisingly positive, especially for Andy Serkis, who plays Caesar via motion-capture, as he did when he played King Kong for Peter Jackson six years ago. And viewers have apparently forgiven leading man James Franco for his asleep-at-the-wheel performance as Oscar host, since 'Rise' marks the best weekend debut of his career (not counting the 'Spider-Man' movies, where he played a supporting role).